Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Love interviews, Johnny Echols and Michael Stuart-Ware, part one
Love: From Da Capo, To Forever Changes
interviews and introduction by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, summer 2012 issue
For many years, much has been discussed and dissected about the essential 1960s group Love, and their leader, Arthur Lee. For all of the stories and myths that still get tossed in the air, what is absolutely concrete about their story is their albums. What started as an excellent garage-rock leaning quintet on their 1965 self-titled debut, quickly grew and changed into something else entirely. Their following album, 1967's Da Capo, flung open the doors of jazz and rock fusion, while still burning brightly with the garage rock classic "Seven & Seven Is." But by 1968, all of that had changed again, and had dovetailed into one of the best albums of the 1960s, Forever Changes.
While Lee carried the Love name until his death in 2006, it was that original lineup of Lee, guitarist Bryan MacLean, guitarist Johnny Echols, bassist Ken Forssi, and drummer Snoppy Pfisterer (later replaced by Michael Stuart-Ware on Da Capo, and Forever Changes), that remains the favorite of many fans. Every member of the group contributed something unique to the music on these albums, which we'll be focusing on for this story.
Johnny Echols and Michael Stuart-Ware take us through the creation of Da Capo, and the sometimes complicated road to Forever Changes.
BT: How did Michael and Tjay come to join the band?
Johnny Echols: I had played with Tjay at the Sea Witch, (a local night spot) and we had become good friends. So when we decided to change directions on Da Capo, he was our first choice, he fit right in.
Michael Stuart-Ware: I was playing drums with the Sons of Adam. We were the house band at the new Gazzarri's on Sunset, but occasionally on our night off (Tuesday) we visited other clubs. Like maybe over to Ciro's to catch The Byrds, or over to The Trip to catch Donovan. The clientele at Gazzarri's was the elite of Hollywood, actors and directors and other rich people with a lot of money to blow. Fancy place Gazzarri's was, with neon lights and crystal chandeliers and a red velvet staircase and a car parking crew that wore red vests and black slacks.
Bido Litos was unlike any of the other clubs in Hollywood. It was old school. A beatnik-era club that had been "The Gaslight" back in the older days, Lenny Bruce had done stand-up, and shot smack in the bathroom there. An old red brick place with an enormous wrought-iron gate, a dumpster out front, a sequentially-firing red light bulb sign over the front door in the shape of an arrow, and located on an alley, Cosmo Alley, the club backed onto The Ivar Theater, a half block from Hollywood Blvd. No car parking crew at Bito's. Love was the house band at Bido Lito's, or at least they played there a lot. The clientele at Bido Lito's was art students and hippies, no actors or directors whatsoever.
The Sons of Adam had dropped in at Bido Lito's to catch a set from time to time. I saw the band play there when Don Conka was drumming with the group, then later, after the first album was released, with Snoop on drums. Bido Lito's was the place where other bands would come to donate a guest set on their nights off from where ever they played regularly, because it was... unique.
So, one Tuesday night, The Sons of Adam played a set at Bido Lito's and Arthur and Bryan were in the audience and they liked my drumming, and Love was looking to replace Snoop. I was nursing a ginger ale at the bar after our set, when Arthur came over and introduced himself and ask me to join up with Love and I said, no thanks. Why? Because The Sons of Adam had just played one of the greatest sets we ever played, and the place was still vibrating and I loved the guys in The Sons of Adam and we were on top of our game, doing movies (The Slender Thread) modeling assignments (for GQ and Leslie Speakers) and recording for Decca and playing all the time, so why would I want to jump ship? We were square, almost as square as the clientele at Gazzarri's. We didn't even drink booze, or smoke weed. Just the music.
Love was great and taking Hollywood by storm, but everybody knew they were a drug band. What happened to Conka? Oh yeah. "Signed D.C.", it was right on the album.
"You, I'll Be Following," "My Flash On You." It was all right there. Listen to the words. And to top it off, sometimes people would come into Gazzarri's and tell us they just left Bido Lito's because Arthur got pulled off the stage and arrested for possession, so everybody had to leave. No band.
A few months later, The Sons of Adam and Love began to play gigs together in L.A. and San Francisco and I got to know the guys in Love, and then out of nowhere, The Sons of Adam began to argue a lot, because we had kind of stalled out, and I lost my fear of the drugs and in late-August of '66 I accepted Arthur's invitation to join Love. Fortunately, they still wanted me.
BT: How did those lineup changes affect the songs? Did the band become more
Echols: We were always experimental, the new lineup afforded us the opportunity to push the envelop a bit, and venture into jazz-rock something Arthur and I had always wanted to do.
Stuart-Ware: The lineup changes allowed the band to move in a new direction, away from the "folk rock" genre into what would have to be characterized as "jazz rock." With Arthur, diversity was of paramount importance, and the first three Love albums were a study in diversity... a trilogy of folk rock, jazz rock and baroque-influenced symphonic rock.
BT: What are your overall recollections of the Da Capo sessions?
Echols: We had a new producer Paul Rothchild, and a much better engineer in Dave Hassinger, so the actual recording went very smooth. Though it took a while for the new songs to reveal themselves, and the music to gel.
“Stephanie Knows Who” was really a fun song to play, we had never really played it before we got to the studio, and it took quite a bit of trial and error to find the right time. It was written with the idea of having a 5/4 time signature ala “Take Five.” It was hard to play at that tempo, and even harder to dance to. When we couldn’t make it work, we tried a kind of modified 6/8 or a jazz
waltz kind of thing, which seemed to fit the song much better. Tjay and I worked out the solos, which wound up being one of the first jazz/rock fusion jams.
“Que Vida,” and “The Castle” were both worked out in the studio, with Paul Rothchild breathing down our necks. He had expected to be producing an album much like the first Love album, he was rather taken aback, by the abrupt change in musical direction, and was not sure where we were going with Da Capo. He was also less than pleased with our habit of writing the songs in the studio, rather than having them completed beforehand. Dave Hassinger, the engineer, was great. He told Paul to lighten up. “This is great material, cut them some slack!” After the mild dressing down from Dave, Paul came around, and indeed cut us some slack.
BT: How was it decided as to what songs would be brought into the studio?
Echols: We had a variety of songs we were working on, the ones chosen were the ones that best fit the "new" direction the group was headed in.
Stuart-Ware: We put the songs together up at Arthur's house in the canyon, on Brier, I think it was. He wrote almost all the songs and the arrangements except for Bryan's "Orange Skies,” and the John Lee Hooker jam, "Revelation," which was written and arranged by Johnny, who also sang the primary vocal.
I remember we took occasional and regular breaks to smoke Arthur's blond Afghan while he went out on his deck and pulled a pigeon out of it's comfy home in the big cage and let it fly. The mood was bright and cheery and everybody in the band was the best of friends.
We never played the songs off Da Capo before we went into the studio, except for "Revelation," which the band played with Conka on drums, long before I was in the group. We practiced the songs for a few weeks up at Arthur's pad, then we went into the studio. The first side was recorded at RCA Studios with Dave Hassinger engineering. Side two was recorded at Sunset Sound with Bruce Botnick engineering.
BT: What are your recollections of the “Seven & Seven Is” session? My
understanding is that Snoopy played the drums on that session, and it
was a lot of hard work. How did the coda, after the explosion, come
Echols: “Seven and Seven Is,” was without doubt the most difficult song we ever did, as far as the actual recording process was concerned. I kept getting negative feedback from Bruce Botnick, who didn't understand what we were trying to accomplish. The group needed an engineer who was willing to push the envelope and not use the same old recording techniques used with "normal" songs.
We wanted controlled chaos, with lots of compression, a distorted bass, and over the top "high end" (which was a no-no at the time.) We also needed to have mic bleed on the bass, track, but not on the guitar tracks. Add to that the drums needed to perfectly match the tempo of the vibrato, which gave poor "Snoopy" fits, though I must admit he surprised me, by actually pulling it off. The blues tune that we play after the explosion, was a song I had written as a stand-alone instrumental. After hearing the
playback we realized something else was needed, so we added the explosion, and my blues joint.
BT: How did the band put together new songs?
Echols: Usually Arthur, Bryan or whomever, was writing something they thought was interesting, showed the other group members an outline. Which usually consisted of a few words, and a basic melody. Most times we, in a very informal manner started to work out our individual parts. After a lot of back and forth, and a whole lot of changes, a song would
emerge. Contrary to popular misconception, [all] "Love" songs were very much, a group effort.
Stuart-Ware: Arthur played the tunes on his black Gibson acoustic and then we all wrote our own parts. He never really made any suggestions as to what any of us should play, that I can recall. Each guy was master of his own destiny.
BT: How often were you aware of what Arthur, or Bryan were writing about,
or what had inspired the songs?
Echols: As I alluded to earlier, there were always songs at various stages of completion. We saw each other almost daily, so we were all pretty much aware of what the others were doing.
Stuart-Ware: Was I aware of the content and what inspired the songs? Not really. You have to remember I came from the first album, where the lyrical content was a little more obvious. "Mushroom Clouds", "Message To Pretty," social commentary and love songs, punctuated by an occasional song about the drug world. But then came "Da Capo" "The Castle"?I knew the band lived in a big house everybody called The Castle just before I joined up, and "She Comes In Colours", yeah, I knew what that was about, but "Que Vida"? Not a clue.
However, a song that had great significance from Da Capo, was good old, "Stephanie Knows Who." Everybody knows by now, that Arthur and Bryan were both vying for the affections of the beautiful Stephanie sometime before the Da Capo sessions got underway, but I think perhaps most people underestimate the damage done to Arthur and Bryan's friendship when Stephanie went back to Bryan, just before the album was recorded. Elektra followed through with the original plan and "Stephanie" was made song one on side one, and we performed it in public at every concert. I mean, yeah, Stephanie knows who, and it's Bryan, not Arthur, like he thought. I got the feeling that it was something that Arthur figured for a while he could live with, but eventually the humiliation factor became too much.
I know it sounds like a lot of soap opera crap but that episode became a cancer that eventually destroyed the band. My opinion only. Maybe I'm making too much of it. I just know that at first they were great friends, then a wall grew up between them, for some reason. It happens in a lot of bands, actually. Very common.
BT: Where was Do Capo recorded?
Echols: Da Capo was recorded at RCA studios, in Hollywood.
BT: How much of Da Capo had been played live, before you recorded the album?
Echols: “Revelation” was the only song from Da Capo, that we played live before the
BT: What are your favorite songs on Da Capo, and why?
Echols: “Stephanie Knows Who,” and “The Castle,” were my favorite from the Da Capo Sessions. I chose "Stephanie" because of the counterpoint between Tjay and I. Although “Seven and Seven Is” would have to be my overall favorite. It allowed us to go to a whole other place as musicians, and was a precursor of things to come. I add the caveat because it was recorded at another studio with a different engineer.
BT: The entire side two of Da Capo is taken up by “Revelation”, which had
been a part of your live show. How was that decided to make that part
of the album?
Echols: “Revelation,” aka "John Lee Hooker" was always slated to be on the album.
This is really an under-rated song. The live version is really cool, one of
the first true fusion "jam" songs, which allowed the musicians to really
"stretch out," and take long instrumental solo's. It was meant to be "live
in studio," with the audience from Bito Lido's dancing in the studio as we
played. The musicians Union stepped-in and nixed the idea, claiming that
since they would be heard on the record, they were in effect acting as
de-facto, musicians, and needed to join the union, and pay dues.
Stuart-Ware: I used my regular single-mounted tom set of Ludwigs for the first side of the album and Snoop's double-mounted tom set for "Revelation" because I had to take a solo and I figured another tom would be useful. Funny way to put it, I know. "I had to take a solo," but the truth is, I was never really a drum solo kind of drummer. I always thought drums sounded best when they were used to compliment the overall sound of a composition, interwoven into the fabric, so to speak, but I know that everybody taking a solo on "Revelation" was an important part of what "Revelation" was all about, so I did what I could do. I mean, but do I dig Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones? Well, of course.
BT: Johnny, what guitars were you using on Da Capo?
Echols: I used a 1952 Les Paul gold top, a Mosrite double neck, a 1954 Stratosphere, double neck, and several Martin acoustics.
BT: Michael, what drums did you use on Da Capo?
Ware: I played a basic set of Ludwigs, one small (9x12") mounted tom, a chrome (5 1/2x14") snare, one 16x16" floor tom, standard bass drum (18x20"), Zildjian cymbals, (a light 16"crash, a medium-weight 20" ride and 14" hi hats). Sparkling silver finish.
BT: Describe Bryan's playing style, and influences.
Bryan was deeply influenced by bluegrass music. He liked finger pickers, like J.E. Mainer and the Mountaineers, Jimmie Rodgers, Maybelle Carter and Alton Delmore, etc.. He developed a style that was truly his own. He knew just how to move in and around the chords I was playing, so we never got in each other’s way. Great timing!
BT: Johnny, talk about your guitar playing style, and influences.
Echols: I’m more of a Jazz/R&B player, with a touch of Spanish thrown in to round out the mix. So I would describe my style of play as being rather eclectic. I loved Johnny ”Guitar” Watson, Django Reinhardt, Luther Allison, Kenny Burrell, Wes Mongomery, and Gabor Szabo. Each of them was a fantastic guitar player,though their style of play was completely unique unto themselves.
BT: Johnny, talk about the guitar interplay between you and Bryan. How did you ever each other come up with, or even mesh guitar parts?
Usually we would begin a song with Arthur and I working the kinks out together, before playing them for the rest of the group. He would sing the song for me, playing very rudimentary chords,(Arthur was a novice guitar player at best) and I would find the right chords. Once in a while he would change the song entirely after hearing them with the correct chords, and realizing it didn’t
sound all that great. Or didn’t sound like Love.
Next we’d get together with Bryan, who had a fantastic sense of counterpoint, and instinctively knew just the right thing to play to bring the song alive. We would often work out the acoustic rhythm with the two of us playing the same parts, Later he would juxtapose a finger picking part and I would add flourishes, or a lead solo on the electric guitar.
BT: I have heard that Forever Changes was originally planned as a double album, with the entire band contributing songs. Johnny, I have read you mention the
song Gethesemene in these plans. Were these other songs ever recorded?
What happened to those songs?
Echols: Forever Changes was originally slated to be a double album, but when we were all set to record, the record company decided it was too expensive, and refused to approve the studio budget. So the project was changed to a single album at the last minute, meaning far fewer songs, which was the direct cause of all the problems that would ensue.
Bryan, as well as I, had worked for months on material that wound up not being on the album. Bryan took the news especially hard, which caused dissension amongst a group of people who had always been very close friends.
Gethsemene is a work in progress, I have enlisted David Angel, Michael Stuart-Ware, Vince Flaherty, members of Baby Lemonade, and many other friends to help bring this project to a fruition. There are several songs written for Forever Changes, and never released while others were started by the group but never finished. It is my sacred duty to complete them, and present them as they would have been played by Love. Hopefully, I will have done them justice.
Stuart-Ware: Was FC originally projected to be a double album? Could very well be. Sounds credible, but I wasn't privy to that information. I know Bryan had lots more songs that could have been added to the album, as did Johnny.
BT: Talk about the Wrecking Crew sessions for those two songs on Forever
Changes. Did you know that was going to happen?
Echols: As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of dissension among the group members. Bryan's way of dealing with his disappointment was to sulk, and not play his best, which really affected how the sessions were sounding. It was decided we bring in members of the Wrecking crew, to fill-in the slack, it didn't work, they didn't sound like Love. Carol Kaye played acoustic guitar, along with Bryan and I on "Daily Planet," and Don Randi Played piano on "Bummer in the Summer." Otherwise, they were being paid to just sit and do nothing. Astonishingly, Elektra offered Bryan his own solo album, if he would finish Forever Changes. Thus were sown the seeds for the group's eventual demise.
Stuart-Ware: The Wrecking Crew sessions? I'll tell you about those because, here's the way that happened. Like I said, after Bryan won the battle for Stephanie, everything seemed alright for a while. We recorded Da Capo in September of '66, and for six or so months we toured a little, and everybody was getting along. After a while, Arthur decided the direction the group was taking wouldn't necessitate carrying Tjay and Snoop anymore, so they were let go.
Then one day we had a photo shoot with the five remaining guys, up in Laurel Canyon with Bill Harvey, the photographer that Elektra contracted to do most of their stuff. We had agreed to meet in front of Arthur's pad on Brier, and then we were going to walk up a dirt path to a little remote spot on a hill.
So we're all there at the appointed time, one o'clock. Arthur, Kenny, Johnny, me, and Bill Harvey, but no Bryan. He was late. After we stood there for a while, Arthur starts saying stuff like, "That motherfucker Bryan doesn't give a shit about anything, you know? He doesn't care about this group." And the rest of us are saying things like, "Yeah," and Bill Harvey's over by his car putting film in his camera, trying to get away from it all.
Then, out of the blue, Arthur says, "You know what?, We should fire his ass. Bryan doesn't even belong in this band." We all say, "Yeah, I guess," a little less enthusiastically than before, because we all figured Arthur was just mad that Bryan was late and would cool off when Bryan finally showed up. So sure enough, in a few minutes Bryan pulls up and gets out of his car and leans over and checks his hair out in his car side view mirror, then he walks over to where we were standing; and right away Arthur says, "Hey listen man, we've been talking, and we all think it would be best if you weren't with this group anymore, right guys?" and he kind of looks around at me and Johnny and Kenny for support, but it was obvious from the expression on Johnny's and Kenny's face's they were thinking the same thing I was. Bryan was an integral and important member of the group, and even though he could be arrogant and insufferable from time to time, we were a much better band with him than we would be without him. So we all started saying stuff like, "Well, that might be going a little far, Arthur..." trying to calm him down.
But he didn't calm down. Arthur's eyes got real big and he says, "OH! Hey, well thanks a lot! Okay, I get it!" and he got real mad and said, "Come on. Let's go on up and take the pictures," and he kind of stalked off up the little dirt path.
I think that might have been the moment Arthur decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Suddenly it was him against us, because we sided with Bryan. From then on, we didn't work at all. I had promoters call me and try to book the group through me because Arthur was turning down every opportunity that came our way. So, we sat around and got high and did nothing until a few weeks before the Forever Changes were to begin. Then we ran over the tunes a few time up at Arthur's new pad near the top of Kirkwood. The place with the indoor-outdoor swimming pool, and it was a new Arthur, kind of distant and non-communicative. No joking around, like when we were putting Da Capo together. All business, it was.
Arthur would show us a tune and we would work up our parts and go over the song a few times and Arthur would say, "Yeah, okay, that's good," and we would move on to the next. So, amazingly enough, in the late summer of '67, when we finally went in the studio to begin laying down the instrumental tracks for the album, we were a little out of practice and couldn't get the first song down in the first few takes, but realistically, we weren't that far off.
So, I look up in the booth and I see Arthur huddling with Bruce Botnick and the Elektra rep who was there, and in a minute Arthur comes out and says, "Hey, look guys, we've been talking and we think it might be a good idea to go ahead and bring studio cats in to lay down the basic instrumental and you guys can do instrumental and vocal overdubs later, and that'll save us all a lot of money. Is that cool?"
We were all taken aback. I mean, we just got here. Let's try a little harder to get the first song right before we throw up our hands and wave the white flag. But Arthur was insistent and Botnick was saying "Yeah, that's a great idea, fellas," So after some discussion, that's what we agreed to do.
Actually, the plan was for us to go ahead and show up anyway, and give the studio people guidance and advice on how to play the parts, so it would have the "Love sound." On the first day of the new sessions with 'The Wrecking Crew," we all walk in and there are strangers in our chairs, chatting with each other and generally just shooting the breeze, and the next thing I notice is this middle-aged woman wearing glasses and a dress, sitting in the middle of the room thoughtfully studying a chart and holding a Fender bass. Carol Kaye. That was Kenny's replacement. Then I look over and sitting behind a set of Camco drums is Jim Gordon. I knew Jim Gordon from when Snoop and I saw The Everly Brothers play at The Hullabaloo. He started playing and touring with the Everly Brothers in 1963 when he was eighteen. That's how good he was.
So I go over and start talking to Jim and we talked about his drums (because nobody but him played Camco drums, it was such an obscure brand), and we talked about how odd it was that more drummers didn't play Camco drums, and I played some stuff on his set and he showed me some riffs and he was a real nice guy. Then I looked over at Carol Kaye and Kenny, and Kenny is showing her what to play on the first cut they were scheduled to put down, which was "Daily Planet", and the moment was overwhelming. I mean, here was Kenny Forssi, one of the most dynamic and gifted bassists in Hollywood, the man who captured the imagination of all the Love fans and critics of great music with his work on the first album and who mastered the transmigration from folk rock to the jazz rock of Da Capo without so much as shifting gears, the man who blew everybody's mind with his awesome creativity and gargantuan power on "7&7 Is", and he's being replaced by a woman? All of a sudden, Arthur walks by Kenny and Carol and he pauses for a moment and listens and says, "That sounds pretty good what you're playing, Kenny. Why don't you go ahead and play the bass on this cut, and she can play something else, like rhythm guitar or whatever." And he walked away. That's right. And Kenny played the bass on "Daily Planet" and Carol played rhythm guitar. She complained after every take, too, kept holding her left hand up and shaking it, like the little strings hurt her fingers.
Jim Gordon played the drum part, and did a beautiful job. You can hear the same licks and technique he used later on, when he played drums with Eric Clapton. It's unmistakeable. It was an honor to have him replace me, but painful, nonetheless. They knocked "Daily Planet" out in four or five takes, I guess. Then they tackled "Andmoreagain." That was no problem, either.
But the next day, a funny thing happened. The Elektra rep called me and Johnny at home, and said he had listened to the cuts the studio cats and chick laid down, and the results were too plastic, not what the company was looking for at all. And he said he had talked to Arthur, and the new plan was for us to take some time to practice and come back in and do it ourselves.
Part two coming later this year, with the publication of the winter issue of the Big Takeover.